Kenya: Lake Victoria Backflow, Floods Devastate Residents

Samuel Opiyo is perched on a wall at Nyankondo Beach in Migori County staring at the swollen Lake Victoria while pondering his next course of action.

He is a fisherman, and what used to be their beach management office has been swept away by floods following heavy rains that have pounded the area for the last two weeks.

"Things have changed so fast in just a month. Even the landing sites are now marooned and the huge thickets you see here have blocked the beach," he says, pointing to the reeds that have crept into what used to be the shore.

Mr Opiyo is part of the fishing community whose livelihoods have been adversely affected by prolonged rains and the backflow from Lake Victoria.

"Of late, the lake is a no-go zone for most of us due to the blockage at the shores. Those who are bold enough to traverse the waters end up with very little catch. The fish population has equally dwindled," Mr Opiyo told nation.africa.

The situation is similar in the rest of beaches across the Lake Victoria all the way to Homa Bay, Kisumu and Siaya.

Fishing activities on the beaches along the lake have been interrupted following the rising of water levels in the lake.

The backflow from the rising of water levels in the lake has eroded the landing sites and destroyed the fishing bandas.

The roads are impassable and navigating through them to the beach is a tricky affair as floods have marooned several villages adjacent to the lake.

More often, fishermen are forced to sell off their catch cheaply to locals to avoid incurring further losses.

In Kisumu, landing sites in Kano, Nyakach and Seme in Kisumu County have been affected by the rising water.

Likewise, fishermen have been displaced and structures submerged in water West Rachuonyo North, Suba North, Remba in Homa Bay County.

According to the National chairman BMU Kenya Network Tom Guda, the waters have moved almost 100m right into the fishing bandas.

Most of the roads leading to the fishing landing site have been rendered impassable due to the ongoing rainfall.

As a result, traders are finding it hard to access the fish landing sites.

Poor road networks

"A lot of fish is going to waste due to the poor road networks. Few traders who can access the fish bandas have to incur extra costs," said Mr Guda.

The rainy season is not favourable to fishermen involved in catching omena species.

He says the lake is very shallow and of late there is a lot of siltation taking place hence the backflow.

According to Mr Guda, omena (silver cyprinid) worth millions of shillings is going to waste due to lack of proper drying facilities.

"Due to the rough weather, most of the fishermen shied away from engaging in fishing expeditions. It is very risky for fishermen especially those catching omena to go fishing," he says.

Mr Guda is concerned that families on the beaches are also at high risk of being displaced should the trend continue in Lake Victoria.

He asks the national government to install barriers along the shores of the lake to stop the erosion of the shoreline.

"It is a massive project that fishermen can't do on their own. The national government needs to construct seawalls in the water to withstand the force of waves and stop them from reaching the shore," says Mr Guda.

The worst lake uprising was witnessed in 1964 when the water levels rose by over 2.5 metres between January 1960 to June 1964 reaching a maximum level of 1134.27 meters above mean sea level.

In Migori, Kibro Beach Management Unit chairman Mr Joel Maulid says hundreds of fishermen have shunned the lake after their fishing gears and boats were destroyed.

Continue rising

"We fear for the worst if the waters continue rising; this is a rare phenomenon we have not witnessed in the past. All the landing beaches have been submerged, leading to damage on the boats by rocks," he said.

According to Mr Maulid, the lake is usually full only between August to October.

"The flooding has shocked us. The water has broken its boundaries and spilled over 100 meters inland, causing a lot of destruction and displacement. Our BMU comprises 600 members who entirely depend on the lake but their nets have been destroyed," he said.

"Rivers Kuja and Migori are already flooded making the roads impassable. Here on the beach, there are tall reeds that were carried by the waves which have destroyed our nets. The reeds and the rocks swept into the lake are enormous," he said.

As of Friday, Muhuru, Mugabo, Senye, Kao, Kibro and Lwanda Konyango beaches were still marooned with the beach management officials saying most of their fishing gears, stores and fish cooling plants had been destroyed.

Other landing beaches engulfed in floods include Nam Rongo, Sori and Ongoro Matoso, all in Nyatike Sub County.

Mr Maulid estimated the losses incurred to around Sh6 million worth of nets and they were yet to repair grounded boats.

"Cumulatively, we are counting losses running into millions. All the cooling plants and fishing gears have been destroyed. Stores that we used to stock our catch are also filled with water," Mr Maulid said.

The BMU chairman said fish prices had also declined as there are no storage facilities.

In Homa Bay, fishing activities on at least 16 beaches have been suspended due to floods that make use of wooden boats in the lake dangerous.

Most fishermen in West Karachuonyo Ward in Rachuonyo North Sub-county, where the effects of floods are greatly felt, have temporarily ventured into other income-generating activities on the mainland to reduce the risk of being harmed in water.

West Karachuonyo ward Beach Management Unit (BMU) chairman Samuel Osendo said several fishing boats and nets have been submerged in water.

Some of the beaches where fishing activities have been suspended include Ongoro beach, Nyapuodi, Kodero, Bala Rawi and Alum, among others.

In some areas, fishing vessels that were docked on the beach and fishing nets were washed into the lake by flash floods.

Increased water flow in the lake has also caused a lot of turbulence, which makes use of water vessels dangerous as they can easily be tossed over by waves.

Mr Osendo said several fish bandas have been marooned in water and fishermen can no longer use them to weigh and store fish.

"Rising water levels in the lake have interfered with most business activities in the lake. Fishermen have moved out for safety but are suffering," he said.

The outbreak of Covid-19 has also kept most traders away from the beaches following the directive by the ministry of health banning social gatherings.

"We are stranded by the little catch for weeks, fishmongers have also kept off after the government banned huge gatherings. Transport costs have also soared forcing most traders to keep off," Mr Maulid said.

Fishing nets

According to Mr Maulid, Nile perch prices have reduced by half, retailing at Sh150 from Sh300 a piece while omena now sell at Sh120 a kilo from Sh250.

Mr Jerim Onyango, a fisherman at Muhuru Bay noted that most fishermen could not use their fishing nets since most beaches were flooded.

He further noted that despite neighbouring towns witnessing a shortage of fish, most fishermen were stranded with their catch as there were no vehicles to ferry the commodity to urban centres.

"Despite the fish shortage in towns, the situation here is wanting. Vehicles that ferried our stock no longer operate leaving fishermen stranded with their stock. We have witnessed an acute decline in prices and most fisherfolk cannot consume their entire catch," said Mr Onyango.

Fear of being attacked by hippos and crocodiles brought about by the flooding is also complicating the already dire situation with residents forced to seek shelter in schools and churches.

Mrs Gaudencia Achieng, a resident of Lwanda village said crocodiles and hippos were also roaming around, further risking people's lives.

"Most people have relocated to safer grounds but their homes have now turned to habitats for wild animals which roam freely during the evenings. The few people who are left behind also lack access to clean drinking water because our boreholes have also been submerged," Mrs Achieng said.

Nyatike MP Tom Odege and Muhuru MCA called on the government to address the plight of the fishing community whose only source of income is in the lake.

"We are calling on the government to mitigate the flood issue that has taken a toll on the fishing community. They have lost property and they can hardly operate," Mr Odege said.

"With no landing beaches and fishing nets, it is challenging for fishermen to carry out fishing expeditions. This will affect the economy since our people entirely depend on fishing to earn a living," Mr Maira noted.

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